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Friday 6 March 2020

Film on Friday: Films of the Year... 2019

Despite many things, last year was a good year for film.

That is, regardless of the preponderance of superhero and rebooted franchise films, there was still some unique and creative films being made.

Also, despite being films of 2019 I've only just seen them and due to festival and UK release dates some of them are counted as 2018 or 2020 films.

Anyway, it turns out that I was just in the mood for Horror/Comedy recently. Some of these are more of one than the other, but there's definitely both in the spirit there or thereabouts.

All these films are sequels in a manner of speaking though, in that I have enjoyed the film maker's previous efforts and was looking forward to their new offerings. Although the people behind the remake of Suspiria were new to me, the original film made by Dario Argento is one of my favourites. Indeed, seeing Goblin play the soundtrack live in accompaniment to the film at the Summerhall in 2018's Edinburgh Festival was one of the musical highlights of my existence!

Here then are four films that I think you should watch. They are in the order that I watched them and if pushed I'm not even sure which I would say is my favourite... they all have good points. 🧜‍♀️

Ari Aster (writer and director)
July 2019 (UK release)

Ari Aster's first film Hereditary belongs to a possibly new sub-genre of Horror,  'Domestic Horror', in that it makes family life seem horrific. It's far from a 'normal' family life it has to be said, but there are enough recognisable aspects in the day-to-day portrayals of familial conflict that reverberate within the viewer (this viewer at any rate). So, I was expecting a similarly believable representation of 'the banality of horror' in his new film Midsommar. As before the central character(s) are dealing with a traumatic grief, which is compounded by a difficult relationship with family/partner. Obviously parallels to 1973's The Wicker Man also abound, but despite touching on similar themes of 'Folk Horror' there are plenty of different ideas at play in this film, such that it never feels like a pastiche of Robin Hardy's film. Ari Aster has a certain style in depicting injury and violence that in its exactness and realism makes it seem more horrifying than anything that Saw or similar 'Torture Porn' films could depict. The images that he creates linger long in the memory.

Luca Guadagnino (director)
David Kajganich (writer)
November 2018 (UK release)

Dario Argento's 1977 classic is one of my favourite films (see above), but it is more a triumph of style than a particularly memorable story. Indeed, the original film succeeds despite it's lack of plot or character depth. I was curious therefore how any remake might approach this aesthetic masterpiece. Luca Guagagnino's response is to effectively invert many of the tropes of the original whilst staying with a lot of the central themes of Argento's work. With the writing of David Kajganich the characters and the setting itself (a divided Berlin before the Wall fell) are given a whole new lease of life, the internal politics of the witches are detailed from the first. There is no hokey 'Scooby-Doo' style investigation into whether there are witches in the dance school, we are pretty much told from the start what they are and what is happening. The wider world is more detailed as is the dance school itself, for example in a change from  the original, the main thrust of the action is to do with dancers dancing rather than as a spooky girl's school. The cinematography, provided by Uncle Boonmee's Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, is also worth mentioning in that they use the same sort of 35mm film stock that was used in the original, but they make it less of a technicolor nightmare and more of a moody and bleak winter of discontent. Remake? More like re-imagining. Superb on all fronts and topped by a magisterial Tilda Swinton(s).

The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers (director)
Robert & Max Eggers (writers)
January 2020 (UK release)

Another sophomore directorial effort that like Midsommar does not fall into the fêted 'difficult second album' problem. Indeed, although I thoroughly enjoyed The VVitch, Eggers' first film, that was only after a second viewing. On first viewing, in the cinema, I was not at all impressed, but this was mainly due to effusive over-praising by film critic Mark Kermode. However I did come to really like it and have watched the film several more times. This film I liked straight away and much as with the first film calling it 'Horror' doesn't really do it justice (indeed, none of these films are typical Horror films). Before I discovered that the inspiration behind the story was an Edgar Allen Poe story, I had described the film to a friend as 'Samuel Beckett does HP Lovecraft'. However, these are only a few names in what could be a myriad of potential influences at play in this film, as it seems the brothers Eggers are enjoying diving into the vast array of different nautical mythologies and folk stories of lighthouse keepers that they could find. As a dream-like depiction of losing sense of oneself, or in other words the struggle against going mad, this film does a remarkably unsettling job in achieving this. It's greatest achievement is the feeling of isolation and of being stuck with someone who might be an enemy, while living in personal and literal desolation is incredibly well portrayed. Both actors are incredible, as they would need to be, with only a handful of brief cameos representing other characters.

In Fabric
Peter Strickland (writer and director)
June 2019 (UK release)

Much more on the side of comedy than horror now. Although I liked Strickland's first feature film Berberian Sound Studio, I was somewhat let down by bad/missing subtitles that made the film far arcane than it needed to be. At any rate I'd heard good things about this film and was pleased to have discovered it. I'm surprised that it has gone over so well outside of the UK as it's style and humour seems utterly British to me and can't imagine how this would be received elsewhere. At first blush you might think that this is going to be a cynical critique of our love of shopping and the perils thereof, but instead there doesn't seem to be anything as straightforward going on in Strickland's script. Instead it seems to conjure up more of a 'feeling' (and a very tactile one) of Dario Argento's most colourful and flamboyant horror films (Suspiria definitely) and as I said of the earlier work this film is also a vision of style over story. There are everyday life snapshots here certainly, but centrally the film is mostly of a certain 1980s glamour aesthetic and some very particular female imagery more so than developing a plot of intrigue or suspense. Unlike the three previous films mentioned, there is a certain relishing of the cruel here, that I would normally find off-putting, but the humour in the film is such that it leads me to ignore this and indeed find the unfortunate sufferings of the various characters amusing. Entertainingly provocative.